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The Big 3

September 8, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

Creating stability in the spine by strengthening certain muscles is critical to maintaining a healthy, injury-free body.  There are a variety of exercises that can be performed to achieve strength and stability within these stabilizing muscles.  The following three exercises are the “efficient minimum” and should be performed on a regular basis.

1) The Curl-up – the curl-up is not really a curl-up at all, as there’s little motion when performed correctly. This exercise challenges the entire abdominal wall.  The basic starting position is lying on your back with the hands supporting the lumbar region (lower back).  Do not flatten the back to the floor.  One leg is bent with the knee flexed to 90 degrees while the other leg remains relaxed on the floor.  Picture the head and neck as a rigid block on your upper back (thoracic spine).  Leave the elbows on the floor while elevating the head and shoulders a short distance off the floor.  The head, neck and upper back should move as one unit and the neck should not “curl” or flex at all.  There should be no chin poking or chin tucking.  The movement should occur at the mid upper back or mid-sternum region. The intention is to activate the rectus abdominis and not to produce spine motion.  The tendency for many is to rise up too far.

2) The Side Bridge – This is a great exercise for challenging the obliques.  During this exercise all three layers of the abdominal wall are activated, together with the rectus to optimize performance.  Begin by lying on your side with the feet either stacked or the top foot slightly in front of the bottom foot.  The torso is supported by the elbow which is directly under the shoulder.  From this position perform a lateral hip hinge so that the body is brought up from the floor and is now supported only by the elbow and the feet.  Pause and return to starting position.  Repeat for desired number of reps.

3) The Birddog – This exercise trains the back extensors with minimal spinal loading.  Begin in an all fours position with your weight equally distributed on both knees and both hands.  Raise your opposing arm and leg at the same time, not raising either one past horizontal. The objective is to hold the limbs parallel to the floor for about 6-8 seconds.  Good form includes a neutral spine and abdominal bracing (tightening of the stomach muscles). Perform desired number of reps with the 6-8 second pause.

These exercises will help build the muscles that aid in the all-important spinal stabilization.  But unlike many exercises designed to work these muscles, the above exercises do not overload or place a tremendous amount of compression on the spine.

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